Thursday Five: Why I'm not buying the hype, or the Tesla Model 3
It’s April first in the correct time, and auto journalists the world over are paralyzed in front of their computer screens and iPads, glued to the unfolding, live-streaming news of Tesla’s new proposed mainstream-market fighter breaking cover.
The Model 3 is undoubtedly a sublime concept, thanks in big part to some of the credible numbers noted during the live event. Potentially the most impressive of which were the 250,000+ pre-orders that followed over the next 48 hours.
But despite the hype, I wasn’t among that number. In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever become part of that number. For all of its impressive figures, the slick design, and the approachable probable price, the Model 3 isn’t going to be making an appearance on my Christmas list.
I don’t doubt for a second that this is going to be an incredible car. Those lucky enough to attend the launch have testified that it is an exceptionally quick accelerator and compliant handler, and little doubt that it’s going to make a considerable dent in the market when it does eventually start rolling off the production line.
All of those elements are wonderful for Joe and Joanne Blogs consumer, but none do it for petrol-headed me I’m afraid. Here are my five reasons that would forever hold me back from buying one.
We’re all familiar with the stereotypes farmed by numerous motoring media outlets over the years (ahem, Top Gear) regarding the kinds of people who drive BMWs, or Audis, or Prius’.
Tesla drivers, come fanatics, are the next wave to come along.
Some of them are simply rehomed Prius owners, tired of having to put up with cars that look more like fish than the victorious savior of the human race. Others are from a completely non-motoring background, buying into Tesla’s forever-slick marketing methods.
In fact, the most memorable imagery from the Model 3’s launch wasn’t the inevitable unveiling of the car; it was when the string of cameras turned to the crowd.
Hysteria, dressed in the form of stacks and stacks of the middle-aged. Despite the quick connections often made to ‘millennials’ being the early adopters to new technologies, sparingly few were present at the event. "You did it! You did it!" shouts one of them after Musk 'admits' that more than 115,000 pre-orders had been made. I assume 'it' refers to 'made some incredible overnight profits'.
The hysteria takes a bizarre turn on social media, where Tesla is followed with something that resembles cult culture. Those who go against Tesla are said to “suffer from Stockholm Syndrome,” and support the “#PetroleumMafia”. Cool, alright.
I don't think I want to be associated with these people.
This of course is the inevitable point every electric car doubter is quick to flop out onto the table when their arguments start to thin.
I’m no broncologist, but I do know that the environmental case for the lithium-ion batteries is far from sound. This mainly concerns what happens when the time comes to dispose of them all. Recycling of the batteries remains a problematic process, which pushes companies into oblivion.
But, they’re a developing technology that could potentially come right over time. In that regard, Tesla’s probably just as likely as anyone else to crack the tech.
The Chevrolet Bolt
Now, it’s not a crime to market a product effectively, but here’s a car that’s meant to be cheaper, has almost the same range, is arguably more practical, and will be up for sale this year — the Chevrolet Bolt.
Sidekick to the already existing Volt (marketed as a Holden in Aotearoa), the Bolt measures up as a rival to the Model 3 in a number of ways; and yet there is no international hype for it. No queues around street corners for pre-orders, no strange petrol-shaming online, no hints of arrogance.
I even think it looks nice.
The Bolt of course is just one of several other electric cars that will share the market place with the Model 3 when it does eventually get made. For all the people buying into the fandom, they can’t be too concerned about the environment if they’re willfully avoiding these existing platforms.
Electric power delivery
If you go up to a conventional performance-car owner and ask them why they chose to buy their car, you’re probably going to get all sorts of different responses. Some will cite 0–100 times, while others will cite boot space or history.
The reality of it is that most of their decision boils down to the pursuit of one thing; theatre.
The feeling of being in a car while its performance limits are pushed — whether as a passenger or a driver — is difficult to rival, especially when there’s an aura of theatre and feel about it.
It’s the reason I tend to love certain cars over others. Hop into a V8 and you become submerged in the deep burble, the idle that surrounds your every move, which when unleashed feels like a finite and perfect force when unleashed on an open road. Experience a Civic Type R that hits its redline and you’re penetrated by a piercing scream, a scream not of pain, but of 9000rpm of ecstasy. You could be any age, any gender, and you can feel it through your bones.
But in an electric car, travelling at speed, there is no theatre. Even the Tesla Model S with its ‘Insane mode’ and unbelievable acceleration times is merely a clinic in efficiency, and nothing more. There’s speed there, loads of it, but it’s delivered to you like it’s a formality — not a privilege you fight to feel through your fingertips.
Leading me to the crux of my dislike for the Model 3 ...
It has no soul
To compare Tesla to Apple wouldn't be exploring new ground. Plenty have done it, and plenty have a point.
Both have revolutionized marketing, and both live on the cutting edge of their respective crafts.
But for me the similarities go even further.
A phone in my world will always just be a device, or a thing. It's an electronic object made to perform a task. It's not something with which one's expected to form a relationship with, or consider to be worth more than the sum of its parts. It is a phone. You Facebook with it, Snapchat with it, sext with it.
I feel that Teslas are the same, striving for the love of convenience and status, not of companionship and meaning.
The iPhone is an incredible device, as beautiful in hand as it is cold to the touch.